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Joseph Petardi

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

In keeping with that American habit of importing European artifacts, including whole castles and even London Bridge, several small communities on the Illinois prairie once dreamed of importing the Italian Renaissance. In the end, all they could afford was Joseph Petardi.

Petardi was born in Rome in 1866. His family had been stonecutters ever since the Renaissance. Joseph himself made his first sculpture when he was five. When he was 13, he broke a figure he and his father were working on and ran away from home to avoid punishment. He traveled to Athens, Tunis, and Paris before emigrating to America. In New York City, he found work with a company hired to build a bridge across the Illinois River near Peoria.

While working on the bridge, he stayed at the home of a local ferryboat captain, and married the captain's daughter, Hannah. Marriage settled him down in Peoria. He built a home which became famous and shocking because of the three semi-nude Renaissance figures supporting the front porch.

Petardi took a job as a sculptor with the Alexander King Stone Yard on Galesburg. From here, during the 1920s, he undertook a number of commissions for ornamental work on schools, banks, and churches in many communities in northern Illinois—a cornice here, a parapet there. No one could afford the full Petardi treatment.

Petardi took on larger commissions elsewhere as well, in Mexico City, Montreal, and Paris. Illinois commissioned him to do a large seated figure of Lincoln for the State Capitol in Springfield, which has since disappeared.

But here and there in communities on the prairie, small hints of the Italian Renaissance remain. Stop by the National Bank of Aledo and notice the rounded medallion over the entrance, a cornucopia on each side and sheaves of wheat below. It's a genuine Petardi, a small taste of the grandeur that might have been had Aledo been able to afford a whole Renaissance.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by the Scott County Regional Authority, with additional funding from the Illinois Arts Council and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.